Julie Angell

Trust: New Outlets’ Biggest Challenge in 2016

Screen Shot 2016-02-02 at 7.05.02 PMMedia outlets building trust in their communities is not a newfound obstacle, but, it’s getting more challenging.

There’s been a swarm of theories swirling around the Flint community’s water issue. No matter which one you believe, we can all agree that trust was broken. The question becomes: Is trust solely lost in the government, or also in the media?

Just because we’re more than a decade into the new millennium doesn’t mean that there’s an absence of social issues to report on. Innovating with technology and social media is a wonderful thing, and it seems to be keeping the media world afloat for now. But, we can’t abandon our principles.

Reasons for bruised trust between media and communities include “lack of transparency, accepting police gospel as truth, and the pressure for traffic and ratings” according to Tracie Powell, a John S. Knight Journalism fellow, in a Fast Company article about the biggest challenges facing the news media in 2016.

The percentage of racial minorities at newspapers is at 12.76 percent, according to a study released in 2015 by Poynter. When mostly white people are reporting on communities like Flint, is there reason to believe that there is bias? I don’t think it’s so simple. While media outlets may not purposely neglect reporting on communities like Flint, it could just come naturally. We see how the government failed the city, so is it just as easy for the media to do the same?

Powell says that journalists need to find their identity and stick with it. Whether they’re “purveyors of content for the most prurient in society” or “arbiters of truth who want to produce measured, thoughtful news coverage,” Powell says.

My initial reaction to this was the absurdity of requesting all media workers be so transparent and ethical. Then, I realized she’s calling out journalists specifically. There’s a difference between those who post secondary information and opinions and true journalists who seek out and report the news. In that case, she’s right. If you’re going to call yourself a journalist, you need to report on each community with the same objectivity and effort.

Without going into the financial struggles of supporting investigative journalism in smaller communities, I believe it should be a requirement for all journalists to produce measured, thoughtful news coverage.

Looking at numbers, it doesn’t seem like that’s happening. According to a Pew Research Center report, millennials have gotten more critical of the news media. Only 27 percent of Millennials say news media has a positive impact, “compared with 26 percent of X-ers and Silents and 23 percent of Boomers,” the report says.

Michelle Ferrier, Scripps College associate dean for innovation, thinks the move towards tech-savvy reporting techniques is not what’s helping the media gain brownie points with communities. She believes “investing money in journalism that helps community residents solve community issues” is the way to go. I don’t disagree with her, I’m just having trouble coming up with a solution that would allow that to happen.

Is that where citizen journalism comes in? What about non-profit news outlets?

At the Connecticut Health I-Team,  a non-profit news organization, 90 percent of the annual budget goes toward reporting, according to the Columbia Journalism Review. The growing news site was founded during the Great Recession, where many newspapers were falling to the economic disruption.

Citizen journalism can be done by just about anyone, so the problem with diversity is less prevalent. This type of journalism could also allow for more transparency, but it’ll have to be tested more. At least we know there are other options in case the public’s trust is irreparable.

Some believe that the media totally messed up reporting on Flint’s water crisis. After this horrific incident subsides, will we see any changes in the media or any accountability? Will the trust from the public and community members like those in Flint, Michigan trust journalists again?

No matter the year, and no matter what new app is trending, journalists need to abide by ethics defining their profession. That’s the only way we build trust moving forward.

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